Jay Ellis Opened Up About Black Representation in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

It’s hard to choose a favorite new recruit amongst Top Gun: Maverick‘s baby-faced pilots, but Jay Ellis’s Payback is a strong contender. The man can hold his own in eight Gs and the middle of a beach football scrum, is all I’m saying.

If you didn’t catch Ellis’s interview with NBC News about his role, you absolutely should, because the actor actually comes from a massive military family. Both of his grandfathers, his step-grandfather, and his father counted themselves as members of the Air Force, so Ellis knew he had to nail his portrayal. “I think seeing yourself on-screen always is something that people lean into,” Ellis said. “We knew that people flew in jets and protected this country in that way. But we didn’t know the ways in which they get chosen and how they trained to do it.” Ellis added that he understood “the responsibility to be amazing on-screen for these folks.”

Elsewhere in the NBC News piece, Greg Tarzan Davis—who plays the also-great Coyote in Top Gun: Maverick—talked about the importance of featuring a Black Navy pilot in the crew of recruits, after 1986’s Top Gun only featured one Black character. “When I saw the first Top Gun, obviously there was one Black character, Sundown, but I don’t think he was represented as fully as he could have been,” he said. “So I think that it’s really cool that we have the representation, not just of Black characters, but of many different men and women.”

Going forward, we have to hope that we’d see Payback and Coyote return to the skies somehow. Whether that’s a TV series following the new characters—or, hell, even Top Gun 3—we’ll take whatever we can get.

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